CROSSOVERS occupy a classification no man’s land. They pander to those caught between the impractical size of an SUV and a town-friendly hatchback while exuding the paragliding/mountain-biking/dune-boarding weekend-warrior image they’d like to convey.
Both the SX4 and 2008 represent two manners of doing broadly what’s (confusingly printed) on the tin. While most crossovers are simple front-wheel-drive affairs, the SX4’s all-wheel drivetrain shifts it closer to the SUV end of the spectrum. Further muddying the waters is the 2008, which features a front-wheel-drive setup with aspirations of terrain tackling courtesy of a trick ESP system.
But if your adventurous side is bickering with the part that needs to get some shopping done, which is the best way to go about it?
In aesthetic terms, the two crossovers represent a veritable chalk-and-cheese approach to cross-over wrappings. The SX4’s new styling met with mixed appraisal from the CAR team. While such crossover requisites as black-plastic cladding on the lower portion of the bodywork (interspersed with some matte metal-effect accents) and roof rails are present and accounted for, the SX4 lacks the chunky, cheeky look of its predecessor that’s dated particularly well. Admittedly, the two-tone, 17-inch alloys upon which it rolls are fetching and the LED daytime-running lamps lend a bit more visual presence. The overall stance also has a pleasingly purposeful air that hints more at function than fashion.
The Peugeot is the polar opposite: its smooth-skinned styling and chrome garnishes incline more to the fashion-conscious town-bound crowd.
While it may not exude the SX4’s purposeful, no-nonsense appearance, it’s one of the best-looking cars of its ilk. The plastic cladding is subtly applied and such features as the gracefully sloping front, replete with Peugeot’s signature grille and sweeping LED-topped headlamps, not to mention a steeply raked roof culminating in a cute rump, lend the 2008 a good degree of visual flair.
There are a couple of common threads running through the cabins, while each car also sports model-unique features. Like its exterior, the SX4’s cabin is more functional than stylish, being ergonomically sound and impressively spacious all-round.
By contrast, the 2008’s cockpit exudes a real sense of theatre. From the swooping, tiered dash to the aeronautically styled handbrake and cabin lights that include wavy LED-infused claw marks in the roof lining, there’s plenty going on … including a driving position that’s ergonomically hit-and-miss in terms of both comfort and instrument visibility. Although not quite as spacious as the SX4, the 2008’s deep glazing and brighter cabin appointments lend the cabin an airy feel that belies its smaller dimensions.
While the SX4’s cabin is dark-trimmed, it is bigger than that of the 2008, especially aft where, thanks to a high roofline and thin front seatbacks, there’s excellent leg- and headroom for occupants aft. Material quality in both cars is generally good, with hard but well-fitted plastics interspersed with slush-moulded panels to lend their facias an upmarket feel.
In terms of practicality, there’s little to separate the pair. The SX4’s boot is marginally smaller, but features a removable floor panel under which more valuable oddments can be hidden. Although both cars serve up a respectable 1 024 dm3 of utility space, the Peugeot’s party trick is a rear bench that folds completely flat – which is great for loading and accommodating unwieldy goods.
Both cars feature similarly powered, naturally aspirated 1,6-litre powerplants. But, despite differences in outputs equating to 2 kW and 4 N.m, there’s a marked divergence in the manner they perform. Driven back to back, there’s a sense that the 2008’s marginally more powerful engine feels livelier than the rather flat-feeling SX4’s, the latter which needs to be worked to make brisk progress.
The SX4’s combination of maximum torque of just 156 N.m at a lofty 4 400 r/min, allied with taller gearing than that of the Peugeot, saw considerable gaps opening between the pairs’ overtaking acceleration in top gear.
It was believed the SX4’s all-wheel-drive underpinnings would weigh the car down, thus blunting performance, but our scales registered only 11 kg over the 2008. To its credit, the SX4’s powerplant is disarmingly smooth and quiet, a trait that often sees you inadvertently travelling at top-gear speeds in fourth, or even third.
The 2008’s engine is similarly smooth, but its touch of aural verve under acceleration seems to bolster the sensation of there being a bit more power.
If there was a black mark against the 2008’s drivetrain, it has to be the baggy, imprecise gearshift action and a clutch that tends to bite high on the pedal’s travel.
There are no such qualms with the SX4’s ‘box; a combination of slick, accurate shift action and a light, easily modulated clutch makes some amends for the powerplant’s shortcomings.
Again, there’s little to separate the pair on-road, both being liveable enough. In some respects, though, the SX4 has the edge. Its ride is more composed than that of the 2008, which can become choppy on poor surfaces, and in terms of overall body control and cornering grip the automatic setting on the SX4’s four-mode all-wheel-drive system adds a touch more composure.
With the system set in lock, the SX4 made unflustered progress up a steep, loose-surfaced slope. With 175 mm of ground clearance with which to play, you have to tread carefully, but it’s capable enough for light off-road duty and feels stable when travelling at a brisk pace on gravel roads.
The 2008’s Grip Control system comprises program-mable ESP that apportions traction to the two front wheels where required on loose surfaces. It’s not as assured as the SX4’s system, but once you become accustomed to ignoring the initial wheel slip and leaning on the throttle, it will propel the car well enough over dirt or gravelly surfaces. The 165 mm of ground clearance does, however, mean that you have to plot your course carefully so as not to grate the undercarriage.
In most respects, the SX4 is a interesting purchase proposition. It’s solid, refined, practical and even acceptably adept when it comes to light-to-modest green-laning.
As a package, the weak engine represents a drawback, but it’s a mere smudge compared with the price. The AllGrip’s R320 000 asking price means that you have to be torn between a hatch and a compact SUV to justify it. At that price point, the hatchback options include low-to-mid-spec versions of the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and VW Golf, while the Hyundai ix35, Honda CR-V (both 2WD, but needs-meeting enough) and Subaru Forester all sit a couple of thousand either side of the SX4’s sticker price.
Despite its foibles, the 2008’s concept is better resolved. City slicker in terms of aesthetics and drive, but with marginally jacked-up ride height and modified traction-control system adding a touch of composure on unsealed surfaces, it’s a neat stopgap between the SX4 and other FWD rivals in its particular crossover segment.
That said, although the 2008 range’s pricing is more palatable than that of the SX4, you have to be dead-set on the image and packaging it entails to accept the R40 000-odd it demands above the comparable 208 hatchback.
Crossover Road Test Scores:
Suzuki SX4 1,6 GLX AllGrip: 68/100
Peugeot 2008 1,6 VTi Allure: 70/100